The Snow Devils (1967) [La morte viene dal pianeta Aytin]

You aren’t going to find Antonio Margheriti on any great directors list, not even under his frequent alias “Anthony Dawson.”

This is one of his “Dawson” films.  Even the Italian prints list his assumed name as director, although his real name still shows up elsewhere in the credits.  The idea is to convince the American audience that they’re watching an American film.  Not that that ever worked.

The Snow Devils is the final film in what is often called “The Gamma One Quadrilogy,” four films set on the Space Station Gamma One.  They were churned out in a hurry, reusing the same sets, props and costumes, although, curiously, there are actually two different brave and rugged heroic commanders.  The first two, Wild, Wild Planet  and The War of the Planets, star “Tony Russell” as Commander Mike Halstead, while the last two, War Between the Planets and this one, feature “Jack Stuart” as Commander Rod Jackson.  The two are pretty much interchangeable.  In fact, Margheriti made all four films on a tight, thirty day schedule (much like a TV series) with scenes from multiple films often being shot on the same sets on the same day with different colored clapboards for each film.  They alternated between two different casts them to help sort out the mess and speed it all up.  MGM commissioned the films as a package for American TV, although they first got theatrical releases in Europe.

This allowed them to spend a bit more money on the props and effects, as most of them get reused from film to film:  the look is bargain basement Chesley Bonestell.  Mind you, by the  Sixties, his clean, simplified look had mostly given way to something closer to real life rockets (with their pipes, corrugated skins and obvious sections) in American SF films, thus leaving these films looking just a touch old fashioned (a fifth film set on Gamma One, the Japanese/US/Italian co-production The Green Slime was made in Japan, but neither Margheriti, his crew nor either of the original casts were involved).

Of the four, Wild,Wild Planet is by far the best, not because it has any claim to such trivialities as better directing, acting, script or anything like that:  instead it is one of the most unutterably insane SF films ever made, with a totally mad plot and the world’s most preposterous evil mad scientist plan ever put on film.  I mean, seriously, it puts even the worst Italian James Bond villain copies to shame.  None of them ever planned to cut himself and the heroine in half and fuse them into one perfect being!

The Snow Devils never reaches such heights of SF insanity.  Not that it really could, I suspect, although it does have its share of goofy moments.  Global warming is thawing the polar ice caps and it seems to have something to do with a weather station in Tibet which was apparently destroyed by Abominable Snowmen.  Of course, anyone looking at the posters, or who reads the original Italian title, will immediately guess that these Yeti are really (drum roll, please) SPACE ALIENS.

Mind you, they’re space aliens with beards and hairy arms who are only a little bigger than normal and actually wear clothes, so you have to wonder why anyone would notice them — other than those king-sized naked footprints they seem to leave everywhere.  I honestly never noticed whether they actually wear boots or not.  I suspect that running around on a movie set with bare feet wouldn’t really be a great idea, particularly not when you are in a hurry.  However, they do have the usual, overly complicated plan:  they enjoy sub-zero temperatures, so therefore they’re melting the poles…

No, really, it makes sense (mostly)  They want to turn the whole world into one giant skating rink, so they need to flood things first.  Just don’t ask why they need to do that, I’m sure nobody figured that one out…

This one spends a surprising amount of time on a mountain climbing expedition to reach the weather station before arriving at the familiar cave lair of the Yeti (I suspect it probably showed up in other films, and the same set is reused as yet another secret lair at the end of the film).

The ending, in which Jackson uses a trick remarkably similar to one in Galaxy Quest, is fairly clever, even we don’t get the pitched battle between space fleets we’re expecting.  Oh well, they probably couldn’t have afforded it anyway.  Not after they blew what was left of their effects budget on a living planet in the last film.

Not that it was all that impressive.

I do find it interesting that my subtitles apparently did not cover a scene in which Jackson’s love interest and top aide gives him a drink.  Maybe they thought a moment spent on character development was too much for the American market, I don’t know.  It’s also the tiniest touch odd that she and the actress who played the “other woman” have switched their roles from the other Jackson film.

While it is generally considered the least of the series, The Snow Devils does have its moments.  Like the others in the series, it spends a lot of time on technobabble and routine space flight stuff, and it reuses that insane scene that’s in all the other films, of the astronauts calmly jumping from their ship and drifting over to the station without the help of a jet pack.  There are the expected slow and somewhat dull moments; the usual moment when the Commander and his crew get captured and then turn the tables on their opponents; a quick lesson in chemistry; and some of the dumbest Yetis in film history.

But you don’t expect greatness from a Gamma One film, just a pleasant mediocrity with enough shiny spaceships, silly effects, good looking gals and dumb heroics to make it all fun.

And that’s what you get here.

It really isn’t that much worse than the first three films, despite the general opinion against this one.  It doesn’t measure up to the first one, but that sort of insanity only comes in a flash of divine inspiration and can hardly be expected to ever happen again.

It’s just a bit of dumb fun.

And it’s perfect for that late night movie binge when you want something SF that isn’t more intellectually challenging than your popcorn.

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